Languages In Lockdown

With a fifth of UK pupils missing out on English language development as homeschooling continues, Reading’s Dr Naomi Flynn offers some helpful advice to parents and teachers.

Education experts recently stated that children whose home languages are not English need more help with homeschooling during lockdown as classrooms remain shut. Researchers at the University of Reading’s Institute of Education have been putting forward a range of measures to support parents and teachers of bilingual or multilingual children during school closures, preventing them from missing out on essential education.

Teachers who are used to working in multilingual classrooms and adapting their lessons for English as an additional language (EAL), may now struggle to create online lesson plans that work for all, no matter what stage the child is at in their learning of English. Equally, some parents are feeling confused about which language to homeschool in. With these worries in mind, CONNECTED spoke to Associate Professor of Primary English Education, Dr Naomi Flynn, who offered some support and guidance to both teachers and parents on the topic. 

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Dr Flynn recently participated in a free webinar, hosted by The Bell Foundation and the National Association for Language Development in Curriculum (NALDIC), for schoolteachers. As part of the expert panel, she offered practical suggestions on supporting EAL pupils during and after school closures. She said:

“Teachers are working very hard to provide online resources for their schoolchildren so that they can continue their education at home. However, many feel ill-equipped to properly support EAL children in these circumstances.

“Spaces for the webinar filled up very quickly, demonstrating the need for extra support for teachers. My advice for teachers is to consider what stage of English their EAL pupils are at and what vocabulary is required for each lesson. They can then start to think about how the lessons can be made more accessible for EAL children, whether that is through audio description of tasks, or using pictures or video content as part of the lesson requirement.”

Dr Flynn, alongside her colleague and linguistic expert, Professor Ludovica Serratice, also posted videos for parents on the Bilingualism Matters@Reading site, encouraging parents to continue to speak to their children in their home language if that is the family norm. In videos which can be watched in English, Spanish or Italian. They said: 

“It is natural for parents of bilingual or multilingual children to be worried about the impact of school closures on their child’s learning of English.

“For many families, school is where their children speak English, and home is where they speak their first language. If that is the case, my advice for parents is to continue doing this. These are unprecedented times, so now is not the time to start speaking a different language at home. Research shows that a strong foundation in your first language helps when learning a second or third language, so this will not be a hindrance when they go back to school.”

Bilingualism Matters@Reading, hosted by Reading’s Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism, provides training, advice and information on child bilingualism to anyone interested or involved with raising, educating and caring for bilingual and multilingual children.

Find videos and more tips on their website.